By Spencer D Gear
There is often interaction (banter) on Christian forums among those who believe in unconditional eternal security and those who don’t. I engage in some of this as a convinced Reformed Arminian. I had stated that these verses support the view that salvation can be lost:
Hebrews 6:4-6 (ESV) is clear enough for me:
4 For it is impossible, in the case of those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, and have shared in the Holy Spirit, 5 and have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come, 6 and then have fallen away, to restore them again to repentance, since they are crucifying once again the Son of God to their own harm and holding him up to contempt.
We also have 1 Timothy 1:18-20,
18 This charge I entrust to you, Timothy, my child, in accordance with the prophecies previously made about you, that by them you may wage the good warfare, 19 holding faith and a good conscience. By rejecting this, some have made shipwreck of their faith, 20 among whom are Hymenaeus and Alexander, whom I have handed over to Satan that they may learn not to blaspheme (ESV).
So by rejecting faith and a good conscience, some have shipwrecked their faith. Is that too difficult to understand?
Then we have John 3:36,
Whoever believes [continues believing] in the Son has [continues having] eternal life; whoever does not obey [continues not obeying] the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains [continues remaining] on him.
What I have inserted in square brackets [ ] indicates the meaning of the Greek present tense. There is only eternal life for those who continue believing in the Son, Jesus, and continue to remain in him. There is no eternal life for those who continue not to obey the Son.
Meaning of ‘in the faith’
There was this reply to another person:
Yes, continuing in the faith is the overriding necessity to finally receive eternal life.
For salvation is a life-long process, not an instantaneous one.
Now, it is necessary to ascertain really what “in the faith” really entails.
I still continue to think it means the same as “in Christ”, but I could be wrong.
Still tryin’ to recover … the Extra.
I agree that continuing in the faith is the necessity for receiving final eternal life. That’s why I prefer the language of ‘perseverance of the saints’ rather than ‘eternal security’.
The ESV translates 1 Tim 1:19 as ‘holding faith’ and John 3:36 as continuing to believe. Second Corinthians 13:5 uses the language this person mentioned of being ‘in the faith’:
Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Or do you not realize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?—unless indeed you fail to meet the test! (ESV).
I find R C H Lenski’s commentary on this verse to be helpful:
The Corinthians are to apply the right tests to themselves as to ‘whether they are in the faith.’ We do not see how ‘the faith’ can be anything but objective faith: the Christian doctrine and the confession which all believers have. The subjective feature is found in the copula and in the preposition ‘whether you are in.’ One is ‘in’ the objective faith when he has personal, subjective faith and with his whole heart believes the objective faith. The assertion that ‘the faith’ is never used objectively must be challenged as being incorrect.
To try and test oneself is simple enough. A few honest questions honestly answered soon reveal where one stands. There is ‘the faith’ itself, the gospel with its contents. Does my heart receive that, receive it in toto, receive it without change of any kind? Do I reject that or any part of it? Does my heart truly believe this gospel of Christ? Do I trust it? Is my confidence full and strong? (Lenski 1937/1963:1338).
Lenski’s translation of 2 Cor 13:5 is, ‘Start trying your own selves whether you are in the faith, start putting your own selves to the proof! Or do you not fully know your own selves (namely this about yourselves), that Jesus Christ is in you? – unless you, indeed, are disproved! Moreover, I hope that you will know that we on our part are not disproved’ (Lenski 1937/1963:1331-1332).
In spite of the emphasis of Calvinists to support eternal security or once saved, always saved, the biblical stress is on perseverance of the saints. Christians are those who continue to believe and persevere in the faith. Those who don’t continue to believe are lost.
Hebrews 6:4-6 presents very sobering theology: It is impossible for those who have once been saved (the language is ‘enlightened’, ‘tasted’, ‘shared’) and then have fallen away, to repent again. They have committed apostasy by crucifying the Son of God again and holding him up to contempt.
One of the saddest of such cases is seen in the apostasy of Charles Templeton who in the 1940s was an evangelistic colleague of Billy Graham in Youth for Christ and then departed from the faith [see ‘Charles Templeton (1915-2001)’]. His story is told in his book Farewell to God (1996. Toronto, Ontario: McClelland & Stewart).
Or, was it apostasy? Michael Patton has written this sad but challenging article, ‘Billy Graham and Charles Templeton: A Sad Tale of Two Evangelists’.
Could it be that Templeton may never have been a true believer in Jesus Christ and was preaching a superficial Gospel that sounded like the real thing, but it wasn’t? One comment by another person at the end of this Michael Patton article was to point to
the interview former atheist, Lee Strobel … conducted with Templeton. When Strobel asked him about Jesus, he said, ‘he’s the most important thing in my life.’ He stammered: ‘I . . . I . . . I adore him . . . Everything good I know, everything decent I know, everything pure I know, I learned from Jesus.’ Strobel was stunned. He listened in shock. He says that Templeton’s voice began to crack. He then said, ‘I . . . miss . . . him!’ With that the old man burst into tears; with shaking frame, he wept bitterly (see Strobel 2000:21-22).
These are some brief articles on the topic that I have written:
- Is it possible or impossible to fall away from the Christian faith?
- Conversations with a Calvinist on apostasy,
- Once Saved, Always Saved or Once Saved, Lost Again?
- Controversies: Once saved, always saved,
- Can people lose their Christian salvation?
- Is it possible for a Christian to commit apostasy?
- What does it mean to shipwreck your faith?
I recommend the article by Roger E Olson, ‘What’s wrong with Calvinism?‘ (Patheos, March 22, 2013).
Lenski, R C H 1937/1963. Commentary on the New Testament: The interpretation of St. Paul’s first and second epistles to the Corinthians. Peabody, Mass: Hendrickson Publishers (limited edition by special permission of Augsburg Fortress).
Strobel, L 2000. The case for faith: A journalist investigates the toughest objections to Christianity. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House.
 OzSpen#46, Christian Forums, ‘What Christians must do to keep their salvation’, available at: http://www.christianforums.com/t7828815-5/#post66025716 (Accessed 21 July 2014).
 extraordinary#47, ibid.
 OzSpen#49, ibid.
Copyright © 2014 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 18 October 2016.